Juve´s Ronaldo project left in tatters as Porto prevail

Juve´s Ronaldo project left in tatters as Porto prevail

Around the time Massimiliano Allegri guided them to Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017, there would have been a sense of inevitability in any game where Juventus needed a 1-0 home win.

They would approach the task with confidence and efficiency and probably win 1-0.

Andrea Pirlo’s Juve needed a 1-0 win to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday but had not won a single game by that margin all season. They ended up going out on away goals to 10-man Porto after a thrilling and unwieldly slugfest.

Holding a 2-1 lead from the first leg at Estadio do Dragao, Sergio Conceicao’s side lined up with something approaching a back six whenever they were out of possession.

Before the opening half hour was up in Turin, they had managed eight shots and were ahead through Sergio Oliveira’s emphatically dispatched spot-kick.

Juve were a rabble. A shadow of the sleek winning machine under Allegri and every inch a team on their way to relinquishing a decade of domestic dominance in Serie A. 

In the years since a judiciously run sporting operation decided to go Galactico, the team beaten by Barcelona and Real Madrid in their most recent final appearances have bowed out to Ajax, Lyon and Porto – each time failing to get the job done on home turf in the second leg.

If this is how Andrea Agnelli oversees the rebuild of a great squad, perhaps UEFA should think twice before letting him revamp the entire Champions League.

No six appeal for Ronaldo

Of course, it is not all Cristiano Ronaldo’s fault. He entered the match with 10 goals in as many Champions League home games for Juventus. Were it not for his stunning hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in 2019, they would have three consecutive last-16 exits to their name.

But in a career full of vintage nights, this was nothing of the sort for the five-time Champions League winner.

Ronaldo failed to touch the ball in the Porto area during the first half, missed a glorious chance to head a decisive goal from one of many sumptuous Juan Cuadrado crosses and turned meekly away as Oliveira’s drilled free-kick went through the wall and beyond Wojciech Szezesny.

Adrien Rabiot headed home Federico Bernardeschi’s corner to set up a grandstand finish and give Juve a joyless 3-2 win on the night, but Oliveira’s unlikely brace proved decisive.

For Ronaldo and Juventus, the dream was over. As Erling Haaland continued his phenomenal goalscoring feats in Borussia Dortmund’s similarly unhinged aggregate win over Sevilla and on the eve of Kylian Mbappe probably putting Barcelona and Lionel Messi out of their misery, the era might also be over.

Chiesa shows his class

Whoever the leading lights of the next generation prove to be, Federico Chiesa looks worthy of being part of the conversation.

The 23-year-old winger entered this game with two goals and as many assists in his past five outings, including Juve’s vital away goal in Porto. He left it having produced a magnificent breakout performance on the biggest stage.

With Ronaldo missing in action, it was Chiesa and Alvaro Morata who took the fight to the visitors, the latter drawing a couple of superb saves from Porto goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin.

Four minutes into the second half, Ronaldo found a touch inside the area and an exquisite one at that. The lay-off was into Chiesa’s stride and he opened his body expertly to stroke home.

Then a game that had crackled with low-level excitement exploded into a cacophony of incident and near chaos.

Taremi, such a nuisance to Juve during the first period, became a maddening inconvenience to his own team with two bookings in as many minutes – the second for booting the ball away. Everyone can hear the referee’s whistle nowadays, Mehdi.

Chiesa looked to have smuggled his and Juve’s second, only for the monumental Pepe to hurl his body towards the ball with all the composure of someone trying to smother a live grenade. It hit the post and went wide.

Juventus’s most dangerous attacker got a goal more in keeping with the beauty of his overall performance, arriving late at the back post to head Cuadrado’s delicious right-wing cross into the top corner.

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